ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Surviving as an Aging Man with Mental Illness

Jack Bragen
Friday June 20, 2014 - 09:28:00 PM

I have reached the latter part of middle age, and my life is more than half over. 

As an aging mentally ill person with no real employment prospects, and dependent on the generosity of government for my livelihood, I have limited options in how I am able to live. 

When you are approaching fifty, it no longer works for you to get a job flipping burgers or emptying trash. While there are a few people who do this type of work at this age, it is a humiliating situation. This is especially so if one compares oneself to one's peers who might be earning a six figure income as executives, attorneys, or engineers. 

With no career prospects, no offspring and no network of lifelong friends, it feels like I have missed the boat. 

In my past I had some opportunities to do well for myself. However, the mental clarity that was required to succeed--was missing. I was unaware until recent years that I had been living with a cognitive deficit. 

Some theorists in psychiatry believe that schizophrenic illness essentially becomes less severe later in life. This rule only applies to those who physically survive dangers created by the illness--and who survive the biological hazards of being medicated long-term. While that is still not a ticket to stopping treatment, it does mean that a lot of my cognitive impairment has been resolved. 

To an extent, after the events that took place when I was reaching early adulthood, I was predestined for this situation, or worse. I was "pre-schizophrenic." I wasn't connecting with people, and my ideas about the world were unrealistic. I lacked manners, and people became alienated from me. And I had a genetic predisposition for schizophrenia. 

Many persons with mental illness, including me, have developed chronic physical health problems at an earlier than typical age. Some persons with mental illness who have not taken care of themselves adequately have not outlived their parents. 

People with mental illness do not have storybook lives. Yet, in the U.S., many of us are fortunate to have the admittedly minimal income of Social Security and to have health benefits through Medicare. Some have fallen through the holes in this safety net, and are not as fortunate. They may have ended up incarcerated, on the streets, or deceased. 

While most persons with chronic mental illness do not live enviable lives, many of us have the opportunity to enjoy a few of the little, happy moments in life, such as watching television alongside a companion, reading a good novel, or getting lost in a pile of dishes that need washing.